Infertility is not something that's generally openly talked about. It may be whispered about by co-workers, wondered about by acquaintances, and shared in private moments with friends. But infertility doesn't generally make the list of topics to bring up at a party or discuss over a casual dinner with friends. I don't want to use this post to share all the intimate details of our months and years of struggle to have Staley. I won't expound on the physical, financial, and emotional toll that infertility takes on an individual, and a couple. (Although for anyone who is going through infertility, I am more than happy to share my experiences, and to let you know you are most definitely not alone.) What I want to do is provide some guidance for those who have never gone through infertility.
Before we started trying to start a family, I was close with several individuals who struggled with miscarriages and infertility. Looking back, I know I didn't come close to understanding the gravity of what they were going through or the best way to be there for them. I remember thinking they were doing fine because they were going about life with a smile in place. I am sure I unknowingly said things that were insensitive, possibly even things that made them bite back tears. Not because I'm mean. But because I didn't know. Couldn't know. But now I do know. I know what it feels like. I know how it hurts. I know what the waiting and hoping and disappointment can do to a person. I can't help someone else feel it, but I can tell you what helped me during that time...and what hurt me. What I needed, and what I dreaded. The truth is...you can't make it better. But you can understand a little bit more.
Infertility is everywhere. Whether you are aware or not, I'm sure there is someone in your life (a friend, a family member, a co-worker) who is going through this struggle. As more and more people became aware of what we were going through to start our family with Staley, we heard more and more stories of people's own struggles. Their losses. I am now so mindful of my words and actions in group settings and around others, not knowing who is carrying a hidden pain. And so, I always keep a few things in mind.
1. Don't ask married couples when they are going to have kids...or have another kid. Since Zach and I waited 6 years before trying to start our family, we were definitely used to the question. But when it comes on the day you got news of another negative pregnancy test or a failed procedure or even just when you are in the midst of hoping that the next month will be the month, that question hurts...and is hard to answer. And how do you answer when someone jokingly says, "What are you waiting for?" Because I'm guessing they don't want to hear, "Well, I'm waiting for the daily hormone injections and the timed ovulation and the egg harvesting and the test tube conception to all come into alignment." So just don't ask.
2. Other people's joy in pregnancy can be hard. I cried way too many tears over the pregnancy announcements of co-workers, cousins, acquaintances, friends. As petty as this sounds, I just wanted it to be me. I had to lock myself in a therapy room at work and walk out of a family gathering when an unexpected pregnancy announcement took me by surprise. I stopped attending baby showers. I stopped going to large gatherings of people. I even e-mailed a close friend before attending her get-together to make sure no one's pregnancy would take me by surprise while I was there. For the first-time pregnant couple, coming up with a big, surprise way of sharing your news with others seems fun. (I know...Zach and I discussed how we would surprise everyone with our first pregnancy news, which never came to fruition before our loss.) So share the news with sensitivity. It's good news for you, but might not make everyone smile.
3. Words of advice are generally not helpful. I appreciated the advice from those who had gone through infertility about physician recommendations, what to expect from various procedures, how to administer the scary-looking IM shots. But advice and stories from others who hadn't been there were not helpful. If I heard one more story about a couple who adopted, got a dog, or stopped trying and then got pregnant, I was going to scream. At one point, I told Zach that the next person who told me to "relax and stop trying, and it will happen" was going to get kicked in the shin. And I was only kind of kidding. As much as the stories of hope from other couples may seem like a good idea, at the time, it's just one more story of success that isn't mine.
4. What is helpful is knowing that people care. A text, a card, an e-mail, a phone call...those were helpful. Knowing that people knew this was tough, and they were there for me was helpful. A single rose and a card that said, "We love you" from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law after a failed in vitro attempt made my devastation ease just a little bit. I didn't need wise words or advice. Just someone to say, "I'm sorry. This sucks. It's unfair. I'm here for you. I love you." That's what helped. For family and friends to understand that I may cancel dinners and decline offers to go out and skip baby showers and opt out of holidays and not take their phone calls, and to give me permission to do that without guilt. That helped. To ask how I'm doing and be okay if that question is answered with tears or an in-depth description of my last invasive procedure. Those were the things that helped. "Relax and stop trying." Not helpful.
Infertility is the hardest thing I've gone through in my life. I can call it a 'journey' now because I'm on the other side, but at the time it wasn't a journey. It was a deep, dark, depressing, oppressing pit. I knew God had a plan for our family, but at the time, it was hard not knowing what that plan was. But now I'm here, happier than I have ever been. I'm willing to share our story with anyone it would help, but don't use our story to try to encourage someone who is in the pit. Just tell them, "I'm sorry. This sucks. It's unfair. I'm here for you. I love you." That's what helps.